Monday, April 6, 2009

Top 10 Dominican prospects playing in the National League

From my world of baseball, come the top-10 Dominican propects playing in the National League. Because there are so many, he broke it into league specific. Lots of good prospects out there:

1. Pedro Alvarez 3B (Pirates) - Pedro was born in the Dominican Republic, and like Manny Ramirez moved to the New York area to play high school ball, specifically the Washington Heights neigborhood, a borough of Manhatten. He looked overmatched in the at bat I saw from him during spring training, but he’s getting some good at bats that I’m not seeing. It won’t take him long to fit into the Pirates starting lineup. Some question his work ethic as he reported to camp a bit overweight. Many question his defense at third base. Being a big man (6′2″, 225) he may lose the flexibility to play the position, but he has a strong arm and quick hands so the Pirates will work him there and allow him to fail before moving him.

2. Fernando Martinez OF (Mets) - No one questions Fernando’s bat. It is his ability to stay healthy that is the big impediment for him to have success in the major leagues. He’s had three seasons in the minor leagues and he has yet to play over 90 games. This winter he was having a lot of success, but he had to put an end to it because of a strained right elbow. This limited him to DH duties this spring and did not give him an opportunity to compete for the left field job. His other injuries included a bone bruise to his hand and a knee sprain in 2006; a broken hammate bone to his hand in 2007; and problems with his hamstring in 2008. He is still only 20 years old so playing in AA or AAA is not an insult. The Mets have him playing centerfield, but he is better suited for left field. He doesn’t have nearly enough range to match Carlos Beltran and when playing winter ball there are always better outfielders than him that forces him to play left field. He just doesn’t have the speed to cover the ground necessary for centerfield, but his bat should allow him to survive the corners.

3. Angel Villalona 1B (Giants) - Angel was originally signed as a third baseman, but like Miguel Cabrera and Jim Thome he just got too big to play the position. He signed for $2.1 million in 2007 and in 2008 banged 17 homeruns. Not bad for a 17 year old in low A. He has tremendous power but like all young players must develop a better
patience at the plate. He walked 18 times and struck out 118 times in 2008. As he advances up the minor league stream better pitchers will be able to exploit that impatience. He lost 40 pounds and dropped to 230, but he must stay vigilant in his conditioning if he wants to make an impact. He’s a border line base clog on the bases now, capable of only going station to station.

4. Wilin Rosario C (Rockies) - He moves well behind the plate and tossed out 46 percent of the runners who attempted to steal against him. The physical tools are there for him to catch. What he has to improve on now is working with a pitching staff and calling a game. He repeated the Pioneer League going from a .209 average in 2007 to a .316 in 2008 and was voted the top prospect in the league. He’s got the bat speed and promise to be an offensive player that can provide good defense at catcher. He will probably move up to the California League where he will still be one of the younger players in the league, demanding enough when you are playing a position other than catcher. The Rockies can show a lot of patience with him having a young Chris Iannetta already at the position.

5. Welington Castillo C (Cubs) - The Cubs already have Geovany Soto to man the backstop. Welington will be playing AAA next year so he is ready to play in the major leagues as well, but it may have to be with another team. He has a rocket for an arm, with a 36 percent success rate in throwing out runners and he handles the bat well enough that he’ll hit for some pop. He has trouble handling breaking pitches, especially those thrown by right handed pitchers and he is station to station on the bases. If he doesn’t improve his production against righthanded pitching he may offer a good platoon option against a lefthanded starter.

6. Hector Gomez SS (Rockies) - Hector has the same problem as Welington with Troy Tulowitski manning shortstop for the Rockies. After missing all but three at bats from last season, Hector is still a long way from the major leagues and will probably repeat high A. His stick is not nearly the caliber of Troy’s but he can play an excellent defense, showing a tremendous arm to go along with fantastic range. He did have Tommy John surgery on his elbow after injuring it during rehab in 2008, so it will be interesting to see how the elbow responds during the season. The Rockies will show a lot of patience with him as he rehabilitates from his two injuries (stress fracture of shin and elbow). They can always use him or Troy as trade bait for a good arm if Hector shows himself ready for the major leagues.

7. Juan Francisco 3B (Reds) - Juan Francisco has awesome power. He’s hit 48 homeruns the last two years and bombed five homeruns for the Gigantes in the Dominican League playoffs. Like Pedro Alvarez, he is a big man who may eventually outgrow third base, losing the flexiblity to play the position. But his light tower power will make the transition to first base easy. He improved a bit on his plate discipline, but it is still poor as his 23/161 and 19/123 walk to K ratio will attest, so he may never hit for a high average. He’s got the arm to play right field, but not the speed to cover the ground necessary to play the position well. He must also watch his conditioning if he doesn’t want to become another doughy has been that could have been a major leaguer if he had kept himself in shape.

8. Jefry Marte 3B (Mets) - While Wilmer Flores may not be able to stay at short for the Mets, Jefry has the tools for third base. If Wilmer moves to third Jefry has the speed that he can play the outfield, though he may not develop the power to fit at a corner position and his speed is not adequate to cover center. His .325 average his indicative of what he should do, hit for high average with enough power to be a run producer at third base. What he has to be careful of is that he uses the whole field and doesn’t try to force power by pulling the ball, sacrificing his average but not hitting for enough power to make the balance worthwhile. Next year should be his first year in a full season league.

9. Felipe Paulino RHP (Astros) - He was competing for the fifth starter spot for the Astros and if you like 100 mile per hour fastballs then he’s your man. Spring training wasn’t good for him as he gave up seven runs in his five innings of work and the Astros optioned him to AAA Round Rock. It’s probably the best for him since he missed all of last season (except for one appearance) because of bursitis in the shoulder. His curveball is also a plus pitch, but he needs to improve his consistency with it. At the moment, Felipe doesn’t really have a third pitch to survive in the rotation, though he continues to work on a changeup. Without that third pitch he may be restricted to the pen, but he has two solid pitches that would allow him to succeed as a closer.

10. Rafael Rodriguez OF (Giants) - He hasn’t played a game yet in the minor leagues, but the Giants saw enough in him that they signed him for $2.55 million, a franchise record for them. Scouts say he is a five tool player that reminds them a lot of Vladimir Guerrero. He will be a right fielder with bashing power that has a rocket for an arm. At 6′5″ he has to get used to defending a huge strike zone so how he protects the plate will define how quickly he rises through the system. He will probably play his first season in the Dominican League and if he does well there may make a brief appearance in the rookie league. You probably won’t hear of him until 2011, but don’t be surprised when he makes his United States debut.

Several catching prospects, and the Reds, Giants and Mets seem to be paying attention.

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